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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Wallace, July 15, 1974. Interview A-0024. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Post-Civil War poverty in the South continues to affect the region

Wallace explains his popularity by saying that his administration delivered needed services to Alabamians, even as the state struggled under the yoke of post-Civil War restrictions. He speaks at length about the South's poverty and the ways in which that poverty affected southerners' mind-sets.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Wallace, July 15, 1974. Interview A-0024. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

What do people tell you is the reason they keep supporting you?
I believe one reason . . . people have been satisfied with the things we do in state GOV.ernment. They're very satisfied. Not completely satisfied. I don't think there's any way to completely satisfy everybody and have a utopia. But I think they've been pretty, generally appreciative of the feeling that this GOV.ernment has had for the great mass of our people. Working extra hard for more employment and utilize our natural resources for good. Providing more educational opportunities for people's children who, when I first became the GOV.ernor, had no opportunity to acquire an education because of its cost and the fact that we didn't have the regional community college concept in Alabama. A technical school concept which now puts everybody within bus distance of one of these institutions. I think they felt that I had been, our administration was successful in that way. I think otherwise, also, is that when you deal with people in our region you're dealing with people who are very proud people. You can't find any people who are any more proud of their heritage or their region or their country than you do people here. Not that people in other regions aren't themselves proud of their own heritage. But I think one reason it probably is more pronounced is because we were the number one economic problem of the nation, according to Mr Roosevelt in 1932 in one of his speeches. Which was probably true because of the restrictions and regimentations that had been imposed upon the economy of our part of the country after the war between the states. A region of the country—and I'm not trying to bring up sectionalism because that's gone and we're all one country and the people of Michigan want to see the people of Alabama prosper the same as we want to see them. But the effects of that . . . freight rate inequities in Pittsburgh plus and making us purely agrarian in the days after the war. Plus the occupation. Instead of lend-lease and Marshall aid to rebuild us. And all the schools burned and all the railroads destroyed. All of the live stock gone. And people just trying to live. Eck out a living, just eat from day to day. The white and the black. That in spite of those handicaps they did come back. Which I think is one of the great epicates [epics?] in American history. Is the come back of the people of our region under so many adverse circumstances. And in those days . . . even in the '20s and '30s, we still were feeling the effects of lack of education in the '70s and '80s and '90s. Because everybody was poor. And that spilt over into the 20th century. And so in the '30s we still had thousands and thousands of our people who were proud people, good blood. Of course people got good blood all over the country. I'm not saying some blood's good and some's bad. Don't get me wrong. But a way of describing strong people with great pride. I used to know people that were illiterate in the sense that they couldn't read and write. But they were proud people, you know. They had pride. Many of them would never admit they were poor. Such as my own family. My father went to two years to college. My mother was a college, she went to college and she taught music. But my father farmed and he was just as poor as the next person. Because farming was on the bottom and everybody's . . . farm tenant, landlord or whoever was just devoid of money. People ate because we were agricultural. But my mother would never admit that . . . she had to go to work as a stenographer after my father died in '37, at the age of 40 after he'd been farming a part of his life that was very short. And she would never admit to this day that we were poor people. She was too proud to admit it. And the whole community was poor. But there was a great pride. You know, you'd have church services . . . be jam packed and they'd sing that song "Some Day We'll Understand." And really, I think they used to sing that because they not only had a spiritual feeling but it also told the story to them that someday things were going to be better. I can remember . . . I was in a similar position, but I never felt sorry for myself and I never did want to destroy the country. I just prayed and . . . like my folks . . . things is going to get better. And things begin to get better. But we were looked down upon. And people that came from other regions of the country said "Why aren't you as progressed as other people are progressed?" And when you would explain all of the restrictions that had been placed upon us, then I'd say we're really further progressed. Probably no other region could have come and overcome what we overcame. You know what I'm talking about when I talk about freight rate inequities and Pittsburgh plus. It was designed to keep us from not having . . . agriculture and caused an influx of our people to leave, outmigration, in the '20s and '30s by the hundreds and hundreds of thousands in find industrial job employment in other parts of the country. And so in the presidential campaigns. . . . The South, you know, backwards, they said, you know. Yet it was more forward, under the circumstances, than probably anybody. Considering all of the circumstances. And yet we were talked about. You know, rednecks, hill billies, backward, ignorant, illiterate, racist. And the people developed a complex. They knew it wasn't true, but they had a hard time proving it, you know. And when I became the GOV.ernor of the state of Alabama we still had that viewpoint about our region. And I took advantage since those early days and my political career to travel the country. And I think they feel that my position as GOV.ernor was used to help restore the pride that today sees people visiting us, sees the president come to see us. Come to see me. But they feel like they're coming to see them. I'm only their representative. And Sen Kennedy and Sen Humphrey. And you name them. And I feel that's one reason we've been successful, too, in Alabama and in the region. And I also feel that the average citizen of Michigan also feels that I have expressed his viewpoint whereas the other politicians. . . . For so long most of them have expressed the viewpoint of the noise makers of the far left. And I express the viewpoint of that mass citizenry that in 1968 erupted into the largest crowds that any candidate drew. But a third party ticket was something they didn't think could win. But it sort of got the other candidates around to begin to say what we were saying. Had I been on a major party ticket in 1968, there would have been a very close race. On either ticket.